by Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Socialist Party executive committee
The findings of institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia in Louise Casey’s Review into London’s Metropolitan Police have grabbed media headlines. The 363 pages, based on a year’s research, contain case studies and examples of horrendous discrimination, abuse, and violence carried out both against members of the public and those who work in the Met.
This is not Louise Casey’s first ‘warts-and-all’, fact-filled report. In July 2012, under David Cameron’s Tory-Lib Dem coalition, she published a report into ‘troubled families’. Following the 2008 crash, a decline in living standards for most people ran alongside a steep incline in billionaire wealth. The cumulative wealth of the top ten billionaires in the UK grew by 281% between 2009 and 2022.
A decade on from Casey’s 2012 report, the number of hungry children in the UK doubled in a year to four million. In the context in which both these reports were produced, the era of austerity and capitalist crisis, recommendations that remain within the existing framework of capitalism won’t bring the change needed by workers and young people.
To be shocked by the latest report you would need to have spent the years of the 21st century under a rock. Awareness has largely been down to the campaigning by brave survivors, families and organisations. The crime sheet ranges from the sexism and misogyny revealed by Sarah Everard’s murder, Charing Cross WhatsApp rape jokes, and David Carrick’s attacks; to the horrific experiences of young people as seen in Child Q’s traumatic strip-search; to the racism of stop-and-search and police killings from Jean Charles de Menezes to Chris Kaba; to the homophobia revealed in the botched investigation into Stephen Port’s murders in Barking; to the evidence of many Met whistle-blowers on its tolerance of discrimination and abuse. And more.
In addition, there have been the revelations of ‘spycops’ undercover police joining political and campaigning organisations — including Militant, the Socialist Party’s predecessor — and environmental and anti-racist organisations, with the aim of disrupting and discrediting them and, outrageously, even forming false relationships with women activists. The names of trade union activists were passed on by the police to construction company bosses who barred thousands of workers from employment, causing enormous hardship for them — and attempting to weaken the trade union movement.
It’s important to note that Keir Starmer’s Labour leadership — that also wants to play its role in defending the capitalist system — did not oppose Boris Johnson’s protection of current and future spycops from prosecution if they commit crimes while undercover.
These experiences contribute to the shattering of the appearance of the police as a public service for everyone to avail of when needed. In reality the police play a dual role. When workers suffer crime, who else can they turn to, even while being aware of the bigotry within the Met? The choice is the police or not reporting crimes or threats of crimes — which many increasingly choose.
The other side of the duality is the role of the police as part of the state machine, with institutions like the army, prisons, courts and judiciary, it is a key plank in the capitalist class’s ways and means of maintaining its position and its exploitative system.
The policing of the miners’ strike 40 years ago provided very clear evidence of the role of the state. In the first six months of the strike, over 7,000 were arrested and five died. Today the Tory anti-trade union laws and Policing Bill are part of that same effort to stop workers and young people being able to realise and exercise our collective strength against the bosses, and to remove the capitalist system and replace it with democratic socialism. The illusions that the capitalist class has nurtured in the democratic nature of society and the idea of the neutral and fair nature of the forces of the state, such as the police, cannot withstand reality forever.
But in order to maintain its system of exploitation of the majority by the minority, the capitalist class has more than one tool in the box. Because the working class is not one homogenous block, means to divide us and therefore weaken our collective strength, using racist, sexist, homophobic, and other discriminatory ideas, have been developed throughout class societies. The Tory Immigration Bill, for example, is an attempt to direct blame for falling living standards on to desperate migrants and asylum seekers rather than on Tory policies and the capitalist system they defend.
Racist policing can reinforce these ideas. However, it can, like the racist murder of George Floyd in the US, provoke a mass response which can begin to undermine the ability of racism to divide workers and young people. The shared experience of capitalism also cuts across the divisions, accelerated by participation in and organisation of collective struggle — the current strike wave brings workers of all backgrounds together in common cause — and especially the development of a programme for that fightback.
It is inevitable that, given the capitalist establishment has no solutions to our problems, trust in its institutions is eroding, especially when class struggle is on the agenda. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2023 found that 57% of the British public think their standard of living will get worse in the next year — up 16 points from last year. Three-quarters of people now say that the UK is on the wrong track. Trust in government to help alleviate issues caused by the cost-of-living crisis declined nine percentage points in four months to 21% in January 2023.
This is the context in which trust in the police is falling rapidly. A February 2023 YouGov survey found that, by 51% to 42%, Londoners don’t trust the Met. Only 6% say they trust them “a lot”. Public confidence in the Met to do a good job for London fell to 36% in March 2022. The Casey Review touches on some of the factors that contribute to this fall. As well as the institutional discrimination and abuse, and deep-seated resistance to criticism and accountability, the effects of austerity on the Met are also outlined in the Review — and their impact.
London boroughs’ spending on crime reduction has fallen by 58%. The context includes, for example, that “domestic abuse-related crimes have doubled over ten years to nearly 100,000 a year and the number of reported rape cases have increased fourfold.” The Review reports that “the sanction detection rate [proportion of crimes ‘solved’]… for domestic abuse, rape, and other sexual offences has dropped over 75% in the past ten years”. The rate for “violence offences, drug offences, robbery, hate crime and violence with injury” has halved.
Throughout the Review there are references to the ‘Peelian principles’. Named after the founder of the Met Police, Robert Peel, a Tory pro-free trade politician, they outline what’s known as ‘policing by consent’. But the basis for public trust in the police to protect workers and young people is being eroded. Unchallenged racism and sexism damage the legitimacy the police require to fulfil their roles.
The Review talks of how evidence of sex offences, difficult for victims to provide, is made unusable being kept in fridges unable to close, and insufficient staffing — consequences of cuts under Cameron and privatisation started under Tony Blair’s New Labour. Meanwhile, “specialist units and functions have been prioritised, including through ring-fenced government funding.”
The Casey Review’s recommendations will not transform the Met, any more than the Macpherson report did. That was triggered by the Met’s role in the aftermath of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence and found the force to be ‘institutionally racist’. The Met claimed that 67 of the 70 recommendations were implemented, but clearly nothing fundamental changed. Similarly, while some of the Casey recommendations may be welcomed, such as investment, specialisation for rape and sexual offences, and ‘effectively’ disbanding the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection, the team in which Wayne Couzens and Carrick worked, there is nothing which will lead to fundamental change. The recommendations point to the question of accountability and include a “new, independent, multi-disciplinary team of officers and staff to reform how it deals with misconduct cases”, but there are no qualitative steps towards democratic control of the police.
The strike wave has demonstrated, however, that there is a force in society willing to make sacrifices to defend public services and fight the cost-of-living crisis — the organised working class. That’s what striking postal workers, teachers, rail workers and health workers represent.
The Met Police must be abolished. But in a world where the rottenness of capitalism is expressed in violence, drugs, and theft, with working-class people making up the large majority of the victims, the next question is what will replace it?
The Casey Review cites a recent report examining the experience of Black communities nationally on stop and search. It shows a complicated situation. Less than half of those who had been stopped and searched felt that the police had communicated well with them or explained what would happen. The research showed that larger numbers of Black people felt traumatised and humiliated by the experience of stop and search than other ethnic groups. But it also found that 77% of Black adults support the use of stop and search in relation to suspicion of carrying a weapon — most likely out of fear for their family members and themselves. In February 2022 the London Assembly reported that, “despite making up only 13% of London’s total population, black Londoners account for 45% of London’s knife murder victims”.
How can both the rottenness of the police be addressed as well as the need for safety? The Review says: “Londoners’ voices are missing from how London is policed. Existing structures do not provide a clear way for local authorities and their residents to hold the Met to account for how they police and tackle crime on a Borough basis.” It recommends “a new borough-based approach… to ensure structures allow for greater transparency and challenge, including democratic representatives through local authorities, provide the ability to access high-quality data and review case handling, and deliver strong and consistent community engagement.”
This leaves existing structures in place. What is needed instead is the establishment of police forces in the local areas, linked to a programme for democratic working-class control. This means advocating for local police forces to be under the control of elected committees, composed of representatives elected by the trade union movement and local community organisations and accountable to the local community. The Edelman survey found that 65% trust “people in my local community”. These committees should be given control of all the key decisions including policing priorities, hiring and firing, disciplinary processes and measures. How else can local people have confidence in the removal of racists and rapists, in the focus on their children’s safety, than by the running of the police being in their hands democratically?
Through what other measures can the working class gain influence over those who work in the police? A recent post on the Police Federation blog reported: “Nearly one in five police officers plan on handing in their resignation as soon as possible or within the next two years… The most frequently cited reasons respondents gave for intending to quit were low morale (98%), how the police are treated by the Government (96%) and low pay (95%).” This Review will not improve that situation. Significantly, the blog post goes into great detail on how many obstacles there are to the police winning the right to strike, from which they are currently banned.
Right to join a union
Supporting the right of rank-and-file officers to join a trade union (which the Police Federation is not) and to strike is not an abstract question. It’s part of the question of how, without letting up on opposition to repressive policing, can the working class build its influence on the police rank and file? The ban is in the interest of the capitalist class not the working class. Ending it will not by itself transform the police, but any means by which the working class can gain influence over rank-and-file officers, bringing them into the orbit of the organised working class and thereby undermining the influence of police bosses can assist in weakening the capitalist class’s ability to use the police against workers in struggle. In 2008, although banned from striking, there was nonetheless a mass police demonstration against the public sector pay freeze. Rank-and-file police officers joining the current battles for inflation-proofed public sector pay would strengthen the workers’ movement, and further undermine the government.
Also posed is the need for the building of a new mass workers’ party and the fight for councils to represent the needs of the local population — by fighting all cuts and refusing to act in the interests of big business bosses and billionaires, the capitalist class. The Edelman Trust Barometer found that 61% of respondents want a new type of political party, almost double the 31% who trust Starmer.
However, the Review reveals clearly the resistance from the Met leadership, backed by the defenders of capitalism in Westminster and across the state machine, to any interference with the state institution over which it presides. It would be a mistake to imagine that the capitalist class will stand by and watch the Met be replaced by a working class-controlled alternative. The struggle to abolish the Met and replace it is part of the fight for an alternative to the capitalist system it defends.
To end the misery of austerity and the crisis of capitalism, which are destroying lives, therefore means being armed with a socialist alternative. That starts with nationalisation of the banks and 150 biggest corporations under democratic working-class control and management as a step towards a socialist planned economy which can begin to organise society in a way that meets the needs of the overwhelming majority and the environment.
Such a society would, unlike capitalism, not be based on oppression and economic exploitation, and therefore could also begin to end the need for the police and the other institutions of the state.